The death of Senator Edward Kennedy ends an era in American politics when a member of the Kennedy clan was never far from power. The only one of four Kennedy brothers to die a natural death, he was an expert lawmaker and a master tactician practised at reaching across the aisle when it would further one of his many liberal causes.
His decision to support Barack Obama for his party's presidential nomination over Hillary Clinton helped speed Mr Obama to the White House, while simultaneously restoring hope to US liberals. And it might not be out of place to observe that his death, at a crucial juncture in the President's political battle to reform US healthcare, could just jog America's conscience one last time – as his old-fashioned eloquence did so often in life.
In so many respects, Edward Kennedy trod a very American path from privilege through disgrace and atonement to widespread respect. Painfully aware that the stain of Mary Jo Kopechne's death at Chappaquiddick would never leave him, he knuckled down to a life of legislative graft , placing his undoubted gifts at the disposal of his rich country's poorest. With the presidential mantle never likely to be his, he settled for a future as kingmaker, not king.
It is a rare US legislator whose reputation transcends the home arena. But Teddy Kennedy was one such, and not only because of his lineage. From this side of the Atlantic he will be remembered as an eminent Irish-American who had the courage to look beyond the clichés of British-Irish discord and act on the possibility of peace. In convincing President Clinton to grant a visa to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, he began a journey that would take him from partisan to intermediary. That the tributes flowed yesterday from all parties to the Anglo-Irish agreement is testimony to his contribution.
With his death, the Kennedy dynasty as a political force, the glamour of Camelot, and a particular strain of paternalistic US liberalism pass into history. He was a flawed man and a politician whose influence can be overestimated – but one to whom President Obama, the British and the Irish all have reason to be grateful.Reuse content